Too much government staff? Not in Spain

NEW YORK | In the debate over austerity and government spending some throw the question of 'oversized administrations'. Are there too many government workers in Europe? And in the U.S.? Should the numbers be reduced?

antonio betetaThe Spanish Secretary of State for public administration Antonio Beteta has apologized to the unions for suggesting last week that workers should “forget about having their morning coffee break and reading the newspaper.” It has not been the only controversial comment being made about the Spanish public sector workers, who have seen their paychecks cut since the beginning of the crisis.

Despite that sarcastic remark, in front of the Congress Committee on finance and public administration, Beteta recognized the “effort” played by public employees and their “loss of purchasing power”. He promised the authorities will try “any action before the reduction of their wages.”

Since 2001 Spain has reduced its government staff by 22% (at least, 163,880 people), while the autonomous regions increased it by 44% (more than 400,000 people) and local authorities in more than 39%. However, as Beteta pointed out, the situation is changing: the last figures show that the number of public workers has decreased by 5,92% since July 2011.

But Spain is not at all the country with the biggest percentage of its population employed by the government.  Ac

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cording to a Public Workforce Panel by the French Strategic Analysis Center (Centre d'Analyse Stratégique), Nordic countries are by far the OECD members with the biggest amount of citizens working in the public sector. Norway has 160 people over 1,000, followed by Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Canada, France, United Kingdom, Belgium, the U.S, Austria, Luxembourg, Portugal and Ireland. Spain would come only in the 14th position, with 60 public employees out of 1,000 people.

As for the percentage of each country's workforce working at the public sector, Norway is again in the pole position (30%), followed by Sweden, Denmark, Finland, France, Canada, United Kingdom, Belgium, Italy, U.S., Luxembourg, Austria, Japan and Spain (14%).

“Countries with public-employee percentages above 20 percent are Greece (22.3 percent), Canada, and Poland, Greece being the lowest in this group of eight countries, despite all the negative attention its public-employee workforce has received lately,” explains Judge and Professor of University of Chicago's Law School Richard A. Posner.

Posner was surprised to find out that the U.S, which is in approximately the middle, with 16.42 percent, was well ahead of Israel, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, and Portugal.

In the U.S. State and Local Governments Employ 16.6 million full-time equivalent employees in 2010, according to the Census Bureau. Between 2009 and 2010, most states saw decreases in public workforce.


About the Author

Ana Fuentes
Columnist for El País and a contributor to SER (Sociedad Española de Radiodifusión), was the first editor-in-chief of The Corner. Currently based in Madrid, she has been a correspondent in New York, Beijing and Paris for several international media outlets such as Prisa Radio, Radio Netherlands or CNN en español. Ana holds a degree in Journalism from the Complutense University in Madrid and the Sorbonne University in Paris, and a Master's in Journalism from Spanish newspaper El País.